“Looking at Whatever We Can”? Time for Central Administration to Restructure Central Administration

What a joy it would have been to see the University of Alberta’s Central Administration campaigning with great vigour to both the public and the Government over the last year for the need for increased funding for postsecondary education. Instead, it has been announcing for months its plan to proceed to “vertical cuts” to the University, and has now asked its own faculty and staff to re-open the Collective Agreements for 2013-2015, with one request going to the Association of Academic Staff (AASUA) and the other to the Non-Academic Staff Association (NASA). It is extraordinary that Central Administration would take this step, especially after the assurances President Samarasekera has offered the University community that the Collective Agreements will be honoured (as they should be, without question).

Acting Provost Martin Ferguson-Pell declared in yesterday’s Journal that the University’s Administration is, in its attempt to “bring in a balanced budget for 2014-2015,” looking at whatever we can.” All right. Well, surely “looking at whatever we can” involves the analysis and rationale of the administrative costs of the University that the Association of Academic Staff voted for in a motion passed at AASUA Council in the spring. The motion called for the work to be conducted in part by the Renaissance Committee (negotiated into existence in the last round of collective bargaining) and in part by the Joint Committee on University Planning and Budgets (negotiated for in 2009-2010). It would have been infinitely better for all of us if Central had chosen to fight energetically, in public, for a reversal of the Government’s budget decision of March 7th. But given Central’s choices and the Acting Provost’s declaration in yesterday’s paper, let the University community look forward to hearing from Central Administration how it proposes to reorganize its own staffing and operations to reduce costs and “bring the University to balance.”

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3 Responses to “Looking at Whatever We Can”? Time for Central Administration to Restructure Central Administration

  1. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    (Publicly posting a letter I have sent privately):

    Dear Professors Kane and Sale,

    I am writing to you both, as President of the AASUA and Chair of its Academic Faculty Committee respectively, to urge the AASUA to use its resources to pursue an independent assessment of the budgetary situation of the University of Alberta. We have been hearing for some time now (even before the most recent provincial budget) that “pressure” from academic salaries is creating an “unsustainable” budgetary situation. This may well be the case, and we must be prepared to hear it repeated from an independent assessor.

    However, it is at present difficult to have confidence in statements on the matter issued by the University administration for two reasons. The first has to do with the previous good-faith attempt by the AASUA membership to help the University deal with this “pressure”. The majority of us, myself included, voted for furloughs in 2009-2010. In exchange, we were supposed to have entered into partnership with the Administration in a review of the budgetary situation. This partnership never materialized. I understand that some sort of Joint Committee is now operative but I think its utter dependence on the willingness of the administration to be forthcoming will prevent it from being effective.

    This relates to the second reason for lack of confidence in the administration’s willingness to be open about budgetary matters. Well before the provincial budget was announced, the Renaissance Committee was already examining academic salary “pressure”. I was present at one of its public information sessions in which the corresponding issue of growth in administrative costs was raised. The member who responded – an AASUA representative, J.C. Cahill – said that it was effectively impossible to look at the issue because, as had been explained to him by administration counterparts responsible for budgetary matters, it is difficult even to define who counts as an administrator. This answer is comically evasive. That it has been taken seriously in the deliberations of a joint academic-administrative body like the Renaissance Committee leaves one with no confidence in the investigative capacity of any such entities.

    Sound methodologies for counting administrators and administrative costs do exist, and are best deployed by disinterested third parties. It is time for the AASUA to contract one. Ideally, such an effort might be embarked upon in cooperation with NASA and the graduate and undergraduate student associations. If need be, however, AASUA should use its resources to pay for such an assessment on its own.

    While the AASUA represents several constituency groups, a key group is made up of tenure track faculty. Tenured faculty enjoy special privileges and with them come special responsibilities – above all, to speak and act when necessary to protect the University itself from abuse. I can’t think of a better use for the dues I pay to the Association.

    Sincerely,

    Kathleen Lowrey
    Associate Professor, Anthropology
    University of Alberta

  2. Makere Stewart-Harawira says:

    Dear all,
    Thank you Dr Lowrey for posting this excellent letter. I totally support it and will inform AASUA in writing. Perhaps others may follow suit.

    Best, Makere Stewart-Harawira

  3. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    Thanks colega!

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